En France on dit Al-peen, d’accord?
I don’t mind the odd supercar gracing the gravel outside my crib, it’s part of the job after all. And yes, de temps en temps I quite enjoy driving the things. But, apart from the Audi R8 and any Porsche 911, they really are such a faff in the real world and largely too ostentatious to be daily drivers. I want an exciting sports car that I can drive every day in all weather conditions, which also rules out my powerful Morgan.
The car I really, really want has now been built and you, dear reader will want one too. It’s called the Alpine A110, a sub-brand of Renault, and is built at a special factory in Dieppe, France.
Older readers may recall the original from the late sixties and seventies. A diminutive rear engined little thing that constantly punched above its weight, winning – among other triumphs – its class at Le Mans and the Monte Carlo Rally. I loved the little thing when I were a lad.
And now it’s back. Instantly recognisable yet obviously bigger than the original but still small by today’s standards and remarkably light. Just 1100kg with all fluids. For perspective, that is 25 percent less that a Porsche Cayman, the Alpine’s nearest and less pretty rival. Aluminium plays a key and expensive part here…as in aluminium body, aluminium chassis and aluminium suspenders. Everywhere you look, weight has been sweated down, saving eight grams here, 10 grams there. Even clips and hose brackets are aluminium. It’s genius, inspired by the late great weight obsessive, Colin Chapman of Lotus fame who’s motto when building cars was “add lightness”. The Sabelt seats weigh just 13kg, about half of those in the aforementioned, um, Porker.
With all that lightness in mind, a modest sounding 1.8 litre four cylinder turbo with 250 bhp engine right behind your head, suddenly appears a bit less humble. A whoosh of intake rush and an urgent rasp from the large centrally mounted exhaust announce a 4.1 second squirt to 60mph and a top speed of a limited 155.
This little car is a driver’s delight. So light, so narrow and so very maneuverable. Predictable steering and ridiculously good brakes make this a fluid B-road performer par excellence. I can’t remember when last I had so much fun with my trousers on. And the unadjustable (weight) suspension is up for just about anything you can chuck at it.
Power to the rear wheels, natch, comes via a seven speed twin clutch system. There is no manual option. Mostly, with such an arrangement, I pop the car into sport mode and and soon tire of flapping the paddles and engage automatic shift. In the A110 I kept it in sport and used the paddles all the time, because it was fun and felt so right. Your passenger can enjoy hours of fun watching exactly what the ‘box is doing in a wonderful graphic that can be dialled up on the dash-mounted screen. A screen that will also tell you that 40 plus mpg is readily attainable on a run. Even giving it large with the taps wide open it managed 24mpg.
It is, I repeat, a small car but Alpines MD is six foot six and he can fit in, thanks to the clever double bubble roof. Like the porcine Cayman, the Alpine has two tiny boots, one in front and one behind the engine at the rear. A total of some 200 litres of space. So, not the car for golfists, then. Good. There’s bugger all storage inside as well. It does look gorgeous in there though. Some of the plastics in the lower section of the doors are marginally below par but I just have to forgive it that.
For some, this little French wonder may be just a little too driver focussed. Dunno. For anyone with just a drop of super unleaded coursing through his/her veins this car is nigh on perfect to behold and to drive. And, unlike supercars, not the teeniest intimidating to drive.
I want one so much that I may have to sell some vital organs.
Or a child.
Alpine A110 from £46,645
As driven – £51,805